Public pressure won out in Australia’s “war on plastics”, well, at least indefinitely as Coles announced it will continue to hand out plastic bags for free in its stores in respect to the vocal demands of the customers. The supermarket giant also said shoppers “need more time to make the transition to reusable bags.”
The supermarket giant said it will instead provide thicker, reusable bags for free to its customers instead which previously cost 15 cents each. A Coles spokesperson said that customers ask them for more time to “make the transition to reusable bags.”
The spokesperson added: "We will continue to listen to our customers and our team members on an ongoing basis to assess when customers have become accustomed to bringing their own bags, and will provide them with as much notice as possible.”
Environmental groups are annoyed with such a decision. They stressed that reusable bags are actually worse for the environment if they are discarded into waterways and habitats.
Greenpeace objected strongly to Coles’ bowing down to public pressure easily. The environmental group’s Australia Pacific campaigner Zoe Deans said: “Coles have caved in far too quickly to a small but vocal minority and there is absolutely no doubt Coles will be punished for this decision by customers who don't want to see plastic bags littering their beaches and killing marine life.”
As it is all Australian states and territories except NSW have either banned, or pledged to ban, single-use plastic bags.
Environmental advocates insist single-use plastic bags take years to break down, and many end up in the environment polluting oceans, rivers and beaches.
Turns out, reusable plastic bags are not necessarily any better because if they reach the oceans and other habitats, they could cause as much if not more damage than single-use bags currently do since they take longer to break down.
Jon Dee, who started the National Plastic Bag Campaign in 2002, describes Coles’ decision as strange. He said: "Coles cannot continue to give away what are now thicker plastic bags which are even more problematic — they can't continue to do that on an ongoing basis and they need to put a cut-off point [to] stop giving them away.”
The controversy around plastic bags was exacerbated when Coles gave away toy plastic replicas of some of its grocery products last week angering the public more
Coles also handed out a collectible range of 30 mini-products, from Vegemite jars to Tim Tams, as a promotion. It is also selling plastic-lined cases to store them in.
There is also a call for Australia to follow the world lead on reducing the use of plastics.